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Superintendent's News

Posted: December 4, 2020

Looking Back As We Move On

A message from Supt. Elder as we prepare to wrap up the first semester.

With the end of the semester in sight, I find myself looking back even as we prepare to move on. And I am truly amazed at how far we have come.

What keeps educators like us going is a genuine desire to get it right for the sake of our students. It’s cliché to say they are our future, but honestly, where would we be without them?

And so I turn to them now and then, these young people in our charge, for guidance and wisdom, just as I look to the teachers who work closest with them. Their experiences – the successes and, yes, even the setbacks – help pave the path for the coming weeks and months of this tumultuous school year and beyond.

Recently, I went back to the high school students on my advisory council – the ones who a few weeks ago shared how the virus was impacting their lives – and I asked them what’s working in their remote classrooms, what might be emulated by others. Their feedback was simple yet profound. For example, students like having weekly agendas with clear expectations and deadlines. But they also appreciate time to make-up missed assignments and to get extra help. Some schools, they mentioned, are providing amnesty days for catching up.

Turns out these kids, just like the rest of us, are feeling a bit overwhelmed and sometimes need a little extra time and space to breathe. They want to laugh and have fun and let off some steam. Whodathunk. 

The students value check-ins and one-on-one time with their teachers, as well as peer-to-peer support. Nothing formal, they say, just a chat to make sure they’re doing OK. Sometimes it’s a side conversation during class. Or a quick meeting after. Or a text a few minutes before cheerfully reminding them to be on time. Sometimes it’s an older student sharing advice and their own experiences with a younger one. 

This personal contact is vital for those students who don’t usually unmute or turn on their cameras during class – not unlike reaching out to the kid in the back of the class who doesn’t engage during more ordinary times.  

“Just like in real life,” one student said. 

I hear that a lot, not just from students but from teachers who are doing all they can to make school seem as normal as possible. 

Like the group of teachers who took part in our Classroom to the Boardroom panel discussion during a recent board meeting (a second round of the panel discussion is scheduled for the next board meeting at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16 if you’d like to tune in.)

These dedicated teachers check in regularly with their students, finding out what they like, what they are doing, what difficulties they are facing. They are using breakout rooms to allow students to work in small groups and take on leadership roles. There’s storytime for the younger grades, lunch bunch dates, recess rooms, blogs and videos and newsletters, and family activities.

Middle and high school teachers use discussion circles, tutoring groups, cooperative learning strategies, and AVID techniques. 

Students and teachers alike say they enjoy hands-on projects that allow them to step away from the screen. Schools are providing supplies, books, and even printed packets when needed through socially distanced drive-through pickups. They also are incorporating art and music and physical activity into the school day. The fourth graders in Rachael Perea’s class at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School wrap up each day with music and dance (cameras on!) “It’s really helped us grow closer as a class,” she said.

Most agree that teaching and learning are more personal than ever. Teachers and students are in each other’s homes – they’ve glimpsed the posters on their walls, unmade beds, holiday decorations, early morning hair, siblings and pets. Teachers are becoming better acquainted with families. Families are becoming more engaged with their children’s learning.

It’s still hard, they all say, but not as hard as it was at the beginning of the semester. And each day gets a little better as we learn from our experiences.

“We all struggle with change; my students are no different than me,” said Jamie Shelton, a teacher at George I Sanchez Collaborative Community School. “We’re all going to make mistakes. Sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s ugly. But we’re learning.”

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. So let's keep learning.